People over 65 can start making COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Santa Barbara County next week, the Public Health Department announced Friday.
For the first two months of vaccine distribution, the county focused on healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities, and people 75 years old and older.
Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg estimated at least two-thirds of the local 75-plus population has been vaccinated at this point, and those residents can continue to book appointments even as the eligibility expands to more people.
Van Do-Reynoso, public health director, said people ages 65 and older can start signing up for appointments on Feb. 16, next Tuesday.
Workers in education, childcare, food and agricultural industries cannot sign up yet.
Additionally, state officials announced Friday that beginning March 15, individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 who are disabled or at high-risk for morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 will be eligible to receive the vaccine.
The underlying conditions stated in the guidelines include cancer, chronic kidney disease stage four or more, chronic pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, pregnancy, heart conditions, severe obesity, and type 2 diabetes, among others.
As the situation is expanding, the county will first move on to individuals ages 65 and older, Do-Reynoso said during a briefing on Friday.
“I just want to ground us in reality,” she added.
The county receives about 6,000 vaccine doses per week and the 65-74 age group is an estimated 41,000 people, she said.
“So, the takeaway is that vaccine supplies are still very limited,” she said, adding that vaccine providers are also making sure everyone who already got a first dose gets a second dose on a timely basis.
“We have a lot more people than we have vaccines for, and we ask that until vaccine supply increases, the community allow for those who are at the greatest risk of exposure and serious health outcomes, to allow them to make their vaccine appointments first.”
The California Department of Public Health developed vaccine distribution guidelines with priority status for people seen as high-risk for exposure to the virus and severe illness if infected.
Each county had some discretion, and Santa Barbara County decided to start with 75-plus residents before expanding to this larger 65-plus group, Do-Reynoso has said.
Ansorg said the county was prepared to administer triple the amount of vaccines it has received thus far, and those early shortages led to a lot of frustration.
“This shortage made it necessary to prioritize the most vulnerable population to receive the vaccine first. These difficult first two months could have been averted if the (federal) government had indeed secured and shipped the number of doses they had promise. We had prepared according to their promises,” he said.
Now, production is “ramping up” nationally, and a third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, will likely be available in the United States soon, he added.
Beginning mid-March, the state will shift vaccine distribution to a third-party administrator. Blue Shield of California will then allocate the vaccines directly to pharmacies, public and private health care networks, hospitals, pop-up sites and community health care centers.
This transition will streamline vaccine distribution and optimize the vaccine supply chain, Ansorg said.
As of Friday, the county has received 61,000 doses of the vaccine, and have administered 99% of those doses, Do-Reynoso shared. “This is a huge, huge celebration for our community,” she said.
Public Health debuted a new COVID-19 vaccine dashboard on Friday, providing information such as doses administered by age, race, ethnicity, and gender. The dashboard also describes the number of vaccines that have been allocated, ordered, and administered as well as the percentage of the population fully vaccinated in each region of the county.
With the virus mutating and expanding, Ansorg said that N95 masks are ideal to protect community members against the virus. Surgical masks are designed for the protection of the wearer’s surroundings, but are not as sufficient at protecting the wearer from outside surroundings, Ansorg said.
To ensure that the mask fits tight enough to protect the wearer, he said that some have found a solution by double masking.
Public Health reported 87 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the lowest daily number since Dec. 19.
“When I looked this morning, I was really excited,” Ansorg said. “Our local case rates and testing positivity rates have finally come down. This is a great relief to all of us.”
There were 741 cases still considered to be infectious throughout the county, also the lowest number of active cases reported since Dec. 13.
There were 139 COVID-19 patients hospitalized throughout the county, and 28 required intensive care. The county’s ICU availability was 31.6%, according to Public Health.
One new COVID-19 fatality was reported on Friday. The individual was over the age of 70, had underlying medical conditions, and resided in Santa Maria.
There have been 367 COVID-19-related fatalities to this date.
Of Friday’s new cases, 29 were from Santa Barbara and 16 were from Lompoc.
Santa Maria and the unincorporated area of the Goleta Valley and Gaviota both reported seven new cases, the Santa Ynez Valley tallied six, and Isla Vista logged five.
The Montecito-Summerland-Carpinteria area, Goleta, and the unincorporated areas of North County all reported three new cases and Orcutt reported one.
There were seven cases still pending geographic location.
There have been 30,586 confirmed cases in the county since the pandemic began.
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